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Wed 27-Oct-2010 13:17
More from this writer..
In search of the GAA’s greatest
Emmet Moloney writes for the
'The Irish Farmers Journal'
and is a former sports columnist with 'The Kerryman'.
I’ve gone off The Late Late Show. It’s a bit like Goldilocks and the three presenters. Pat was a bit too serious, Ryan isn’t serious enough but Gaybo was just right. Emmet Moloney gets on his soapbox...
I happened to fall upon the announcement of Ireland’s Greatest the other night and can’t believe how many people have been talking about it since. Quite a few have told me they were “delighted” for John Hume. Being a natural cynic on anything to do with text voting and reality-type television, I paid little attention to such a contrived, celebrity-enhancing exercise. Although those nominated are exempt from that criticism.
Someone in RTÉ will also be exempt when the budget cuts come calling because this was a light-bulb idea that caught on (much as I didn’t like it, you can’t argue with success).
Anything that gets people talking is usually a good idea. So why doesn’t the GAA run a GAA’s Greatest competition? The main reason not to do so, of course, is the simple fact that there is no right answer, no incontrovertible choice, no absolutely infallible candidate. It’s completely subjective. So here goes!
On the field, a search for the greatest will inevitably have Christy Ring in any shake-up. It is unfortunate that no real game footage of Christy in his prime exists. Over the past 40-odd years, we can see for ourselves the moderns greats in action at the highest level. We only have veterans’ words to go on regarding Christy. But here’s the thing – they are absolutely certain that no-one touched him. Tippmen, Kilkennymen alike – all bow to the Corkman. And that’s before we call in the Cork jury for confirmation. On their trusted word we’d have to place Christy ahead of the Doyles, Keane, Mackey, Meagher and a few more.
So who can match Christy? Judging by All-Stars and All-Ireland medals you can make cases for DJ, King Henry, Tommy Walsh, Noel Skehan and a few more. Those we have seen – and that’s just Kilkenny. I’d find it hard to separate Henry and Tommy Walsh, but then I’m convinced that Seanie McMahon is the best I ever saw!
On the football front, the candidates would probably have to come from Kerry. Mick O’Connell is followed by the hallowed Mikey, Ogie and Pat Spillane with eight senior medals, while Jacko wasn’t bad either. Micko won them on and off the field. He has to be in the mix as well. I’d have Mikey ahead of them all but of course the best footballer I ever saw was Clare’s Noel Roche.
There’s a pattern emerging here. It’s personal. Everybody has their favourites. And that’s how these choices get made. Who was the best you ever saw?
That was just a flavour of on the field. What about off the field? I ask because this might be more important in the grand scheme of things. The GAA is envied by every other sporting organisation aware of its existence. What we have, we are told, could not be repeated anywhere else in the world. We are a remarkable success story. So who is our greatest in this field?
Naturally, the first port of call must be our administrators. Former presidents of the organisation include such luminaries as Maurice Davin, Padraig Fanning, Con Murphy, Seamus Gardiner, Peter Quinn, Joe McDonagh and Nicky Brennan. There were so many achievements but the magnificence of Croke Park today must be high up there and I’d find it hard to look past Peter Quinn, who was such a driving force in that transformation.
Of course, Peter Quinn was only president between 1991 and 1994, while director generals, the calibre of Liam Mulvihill, Paraic Duffy and Sean Ó Síocháin, went before and carefully crafted, nurtured and provided the vision, long- and short-term.
These were, and in some cases still are, serious men. Corkmen, fresh from championing Christy Ring might throw Frank Murphy into the mix. But if I had to pick an administrator I’d have to go for Michael Cusack, who did after all get the credit for founding the GAA. It’s just a co-incidence that he’s from Clare. Honestly ...
Just covering players and administrators doesn’t come close to covering all the potential greats of the association. Jack Lynch won hurling and football medals and then presided over the country for 10 years as Taoiseach.
Then there are the voices of our games. Two stand out here. The recently retired Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh is owed a debt that GAA followers can never repay. For so many, particularly those Irish abroad, he was the embodiment of the GAA. But Mícheál was only accepting the baton when it was passed to him by the equally wonderful Mícheál O’Hehir. The original debt we owe to these men was first run up by Mr O’Hehir and his historic commentaries that became part and parcel of an Irish Sunday and left so many of us with the happy childhood memory of his voice.
Maybe the final choice rests between these two men who never played the game at the highest levels, nor sat in the hot seat, deep within the bowels of a Croke Park committee room. If that’s the case I’d find it hard to separate them, although Mícheál O’Hehir’s father Jim did train Clare to win the 1914 All-Ireland hurling final!
Then there’s the farmer who gave the land to the club, the man who cuts the grass week in, week out, the secretary who’s been there since the year dot, the Downeys, the politicians who threw us a few million pound and those who fly the GAA flag in far-flung lands.
We’ve been surrounded by greatness and still are. It will come again, too. It mightn’t be any harm for us to remind ourselves now and again. We in the GAA are not that precious; every other sporting organisation in the country could come up with their own list. Some of them might even be from Clare.
To catch Emmet's latest column, get
'The Irish Farmers' Journal'
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